Boxing great Muhammad Ali dies at 74

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali in a 2006 photo. PHOTO: REUTERS
Singer Whitney Houston (right) presenting Ali with GQ's Courage Award at Radio City Music Hall in New York in 1998. PHOTO: NEWS COM
Muhammad Ali meeting Mr Ng Ser Miang, Vice-President of the Singapore National Olympic Council, at Raffles The Plaza on July 5, 2005. PHOTO: ST FILE
Muhammad Ali arriving at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington on May 24, 2011. PHOTO: AFP
Boxing great Muhammad Ali at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington on May 24, 2011. PHOTO: AFP
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali in the ring after the World Championship super-middleweight fight between his daughter, Laila, and Asa Sandell from Sweden, in Berlin, on Dec 17, 2005. PHOTO: EPA
Boxing great Muhammad Ali (right) attending the Muhammad Ali's Celebrity Fight Night XVIII in Phoenix, Arizona, on March 24, 2012. PHOTO: EPA
Muhammad Ali in 1975. PHOTO: NEW NATION
Muhammad Ali (left) with his mother Odessa Clay in 1973. PHOTO: ST FILE
Sabah's then-chief minister Tun Fuad Stephens (right) "sparring" with Ali on his visit to the Malaysian state in 1974. PHOTO: INFORMATION DEPT. SABAH
Muhammad Ali (left) at the Mandarin Hotel in Singapore on Oct 22, 1973. Ali was in town take part in two exhibition fights. PHOTO: ST FILE
Muhammad Ali arriving at the Paya Lebar Airport with his wife Belinda, mother, and members of his tour group on Oct 22, 1973. PHOTO: ST FILE

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - Former world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali died in a Phoenix-area hospital on Friday.

Family spokesman Bob Gunnell issued this statement: "After a 32-year battle with Parkinson's disease, Muhammad Ali has passed away at the age of 74. The three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer died this evening.

"Muhammad Ali's funeral will take place in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. The Ali family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers, and support and asks for privacy at this time."

Ali, one of the best-known figures of the 20th century, had been hospitalised earlier this week for a respiratory ailment.

Speculation had swirled around his health status over the last 24 hours as Gunnell had said that Ali, 74, was in fair condition, but media reports had said he was in rapidly failing health.

Ali has suffered from Parkinson's disease for more than three decades and has kept a low profile in recent years.

The Radar Online website reported on Friday that Ali had been placed on life support, citing "an insider". The Reuters source close to the family could not comment on that report.

News of his latest health setback sparked concern among admirers.

"Prayers & blessings to my idol," boxer Sugar Ray Leonard tweeted. Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton tweeted: "My prayers and thoughts are with Muhammad and family."

Another boxing superstar, Manny Pacquiao, also paid tribute to Ali:" We lost a giant today. Boxing benefited from Muhammad Ali's talents but not nearly as much as mankind benefited from his humanity."

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said of the boxer in a Facebook post: "Unforgettable. The beauty he brought to a tough sport. His foot shuffle, the way he danced around evading blows, and his lightning speed jabs. His legendary work ethic. And the comical bravado in his poetry."

Ali's last public appearance was in April at the "Celebrity Fight Night" gala in Arizona, a charity that benefits the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center.

At the height of his career, Ali was known for his dancing feet and quick fists and his ability, as he put it, to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

He held the heavyweight title a record three times, and Sports Illustrated named him the top sportsman of the 20th century.

Nicknamed "The Greatest," Ali retired from boxing in 1981 with a record of 56 wins, 37 by knockout, and five losses. Ali's diagnosis of Parkinson's came about three years after he left the ring.

Ali, born in Louisville, Kentucky, as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, changed his name in 1964 after his conversion to Islam.

Ali had a show-time personality that he melded with dazzling footwork and great hand speed. His bouts with such fighters as Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman made him an international celebrity like boxing had never seen.

Muhammad Ali (left) at the Mandarin Hotel in Singapore on Oct 22, 1973. Ali was in town take part in two exhibition fights. PHOTO: ST FILE

He became a symbol for black liberation during the 1960s as he stood up to the US government by refusing to go into the Army for religious reasons.

Ali made a surprise appearance at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, stilling the Parkinson's tremors in his hands enough to light the Olympic flame.

Boxer Muhammad Ali acknowledging spectators after completing a five-round exhibition bout against Tony Doyle at the National Stadium on Oct 24, 1973. PHOTO: ST FILE

He also took part in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012, looking frail in a wheelchair. He has been married four times and has nine children.

Boxer Muhammad Ali (right) corners Tony Doyle during an exhibition bout at the National Stadium in 1973. PHOTO: ST FILE

Ali's daughter Laila, a former boxer, tweeted a photo of her father kissing her own daughter, Sydney. She thanked supporters for their wishes for Ali, saying: "I feel your love and appreciate it!"

Muhammad Ali (right) with his wife Belinda at the Mandarin Hotel, Singapore, on Oct 22, 1973. Ali was in town to give two five-round exhibition bouts with sparring partners Tony Doyle and Orianso Johnson at the National Stadium. PHOTO: ST FILE

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